Anya Opshinsky: This is Anya Opshinsky conducting our second interview with MissMollie Peterson on Monday, May 11, 2015. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. So I just want to start out in reflecting upon your part in Engaging the Wisdom project. You mentioned that your story is different from other black families and individuals that traveled from the South to the North and to Kalamazoo. And I just wanted to ask if you could talk a little bit about what makes your story different.
Mollie Peterson: Well, when I said different, and I had to write things down[Mollie is holding set of papers in her hands] because I just wanted to clarify that family unity and blacks and community and taking care of the children in the community, that was, that was known throughout the South. The difference was being born in Little Rock and moving to Missouri, detached from family, made my experiences different. So, when you live in a city, you have more free spirit. People talked about more. There was more things going on, but when you, in a country, and I was raised by older people, so your conversation was very tapered, you know, very limited. Women weren't allowed to speak out of turn or say certain things. It was just a different. It's just a different background than the city. So, what I did, I had to sit and think about it. I thought about when I was like, really young, when, when the race riots and Brown vs. Education and the Little Rock desegregation. Even though I lived in Little Rock, I was like two or three years old when the Little Rock Nine and the Little Rock desegregation started. I have older siblings that experienced it, but since I was separated from them I didn't really get to hear their story behind what happened, you know, their feelings behind it. So as I matured or became a teen, naturally like the March on Washington, the Black Power Movement. I remember, hearing about George Wallace. Names like George Wallace, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the death of Martin, death of Kennedy, you know, things like that that shook you as an individual? Because looking from television at that time, there was not a lot of dialogue. So you could see a lot of destruction, a lot of history about lynchings. You could see African Americans being, you know, still going through police brutality, but, a different experience in the country than in the city. That's what I was saying. As I, as I became a young adult, I could look back. Because I was saying in the first interview, I looked to the Black Power movement. People like Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, but then when you read about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, their story was really not being told to the extent as it should have where you could really grow up as an African American woman feeling that pride of having two women that had that much courage to almost change a, change the world. And you think of Mother Teresa,women like that. Because it wasn't that they was doing it for money or you didn't see them out there getting paid a lot of money. They did it because of that heart, you know, and that passion and the gift that God had gave them. And I think they covered a lot of territory and broke a lot of ground for experiences for myself.
AO: When you say that you feel their story wasn't told as much as maybe peoplelike Maya Angelou and Angela Davis, how do you experience that? In what ways were Harriet Tubman's story not as visible?
MP: I think because people at that time, the older generation which is what Iwas around, probably was trying to forget. There was so much that they didn't talk about. You really didn't know what they experienced because it wasn't shared. It's when you become an adult and you think back. Like the lady that raised me. For her not to know her real birth date, you didn't think about that because you're a child growing up. As you get old and you think back, you're like "Wow, I remember her talking about that, that she didn't have a birth certificate." And it just made you wonder, you know, exactly what did she grow up through or what did she go through? But like I said, there's just certain conversations that just wasn't talked about back then, which I believe passes on, passes on to women because whatever experiences you experience as a child, you bring it into your adulthood.
AO: So yeah, so, so when you talk about the idea of starting over, that'ssomething that you touched upon in your last interview. I'd just like you tell us a little bit about what starting over or reinventing yourself, what that really has meant to you.
MP: That's a loaded question because I've started over so many times. I'm-a tellyou something, I didn't even know it was called, it was considered reinventing yourself or I was reinventing myself until I heard some pastors you know, TD Jakes or some pastors talking about it, but that's exactly what I was doing because I had so many barriers, hit so many walls, and I went through so many experiences from poor choices and I had no choice but to stay down or to get up and start over. And I think what I, what I wrote [reads from paper], "When I look back, I just thought about some of my experiences but, this is what I came up with." Because I did like, started late with, like my education to return to college, I didn't get my master's degree until 2012. I didn't go back to school 'til I was older. Everything is, like, behind where it should be, but what I, I think I'm saying is: Starting over helped me to, now that I think about it, first of all, raising children - four. I have four biological children and then I raised three daughters that were my ex's daughters. And raising children, you role modeling for your children and you don't know that until they're grown. So had I stayed where I was, they wouldn't have been able to see what I could do or what I could become. I never sit and pointed fingers or stayed down too long or blamed, you know. I wasn't the type of person that just blamed people forever. I knew I had to take some responsibility and accountability for my actions. So I think that's another reason. As a mother you get up and you keep pushing and you keep pushing until you get to where you're going. But I had wrote [reads from paper], "Today my experiences were formed by my gifts and passions that God had given me," which I had no idea what was inside of me because no one planted. No one told me. No one encouraged. When I was growing up, I didn't get the compliments, I never got the, so I had to grow up figuring everything out because that was missing. So, I've said [reads from paper], "I worked in couple of county jails, which introduced me to the criminal justice system. I worked in the juvenile detention center, which introduced me the juvenile justice system. I worked in a lot of family, what is called, case management agencies that deals with families. And then, now I work for the State of Michigan in the foster care system, so that introduced me to the foster care system as well as the family court system." And basically, the family court system plus the abuse and neglect system.
And I said [reads from paper], "These were the letters that taught me the skillsto advocate for the voiceless, racial equity, educational disparities in children of color, and the skills to empower families to advocate for their children and their own personal needs." And, basically, it wasn't about me. The journey was all to keep me, for me to keep standing, I believe that, that determination was something higher, you know. God definitely was there because it was for someone else, it wasn't for me. So that I could take a stand for people who couldn't take that stand for themselves and try to teach some skills.
AO: Nice. I'm glad you brought that in and wrote that. So before we get into therealizations of, that you had later in life that were more conscious of when you were reinventing yourself and your decision to become an activist for others. Let's start at the beginning in your childhood -
AO: --before maybe those realizations were as apparent because maybe you weren'tthinking about them more in a kid's mind.
AO: So can you tell me how old you were when you first left Little Rock andmoved to Missouri?
MP: At this point, I have forgotten.
MP: I'm being honest.
MP: I can't even remember how old I was [laughs]
AO: No, totally fine. Do you happen to remember the name of the town near whereyou grew up in Missouri?
MP: Mm-hmm. The town was New Madrid, Howardville, Missouri. And, well, I don'tknow if you want me to--that's the town. I'll stop there. [laughs]
AO: And you mentioned when you first arrived there in Missouri that youremembered not speaking as much and connecting to a poem that you read later in life about, I think it was Angela Davis, not speaking and her childhood. Can you talk a little bit more about, about how that happened when you were first in Missouri and maybe how you remember being perceived when you first got there?
MP: No, I think, well, I know why it happened. I believe I know why it happenednow. It's because when, when my father was searching for housing for my sister and myself, we went to several different homes and not like foster care. It wasn't. It was like he was trying to find family or someone within the family to, for me and my sister. And probably by the time I, had I stayed in Little Rock which is familiar, you know that's familiar for myself, I would've been okay, but since we had left and moved to another state that probably was just my way of dealing with, dealing with the sit-, being in a new environment and being in a home where people that you had to get to know. And then, we were not taken. But my father didn't take us to Missouri. We were put on a bus. So, it's not like we went with a lot of support. So I think it was just part of that. And the book, the person was Maya Angelou.
AO: Oh, sorry.
MP: You know there was a time she went through some things, but I think it'sjust what people do sometimes to regroup and refocus. We moved to a place where the caregivers were older and you didn't really say a lot anyway. You had to be careful what you said and how you said it and the things you did. So, I think they probably thought it was wonderful [laughs] that I wasn't talking a lot.
AO: You mentioned your aunt and uncle, your caregivers there, didn't believe insports for girls.
MP: No, I wanted to go to the service and my aunt was like no way, women,there's no place for women in the military.
AO: Yeah, do you have any other memories of other things that they saw girlsshouldn't be, thought that girls shouldn't be allowed to do?
MP: Well, not offhand. It was a lot. [laughs]
AO: So what about your first house when you lived there? Can you talk, youmentioned it was a one-room house. Can you talk a little bit about what you can remember from your time living there?
MP: I wrote a story. It's been years, it's been years. I think this was like, inthe 90s, I had wrote a little story about my childhood and I just happened to find it. I don't even remember the year, but it's so old the paper has turned, but I had wrote in here and I was reading. I can just say, basically what I had remembered was it was a small, I can read this. [reads from paper], "We had a small three-bedroom house that sat all the way back off the road in the middle of an old cornfield. The house and the field belonged to the caregivers." Or the white owners that my uncle and my aunt worked for. My aunt was a maid. My uncle worked on the farm. [reads from paper] "So, in this house we were surrounded by chickens, ducks, hogs, you name it. The smell of foul air, which came from the outside toilet." We actually had an outside toilet when I first moved to Missouri. And I said, "But even so there was always plenty of food and clean clothes. We had lots of chores to do. We had to pump water for the house; we had to pump water because we had a wringer washing machine. We had the old coal stove that we used for heat and for cooking. We had fields. We chopped cotton. We picked cotton. We had okra, tomatoes--oh vegetable--cucumbers, strawberries, you named it, peas. You named it, we done it, as far as kids working in fields." So I remember the house being small, but I don't remember not having enough room. It's really strange. I can't explain it, but it was small. It was small. We went back when we, you know, as adults and it was like, I don't even know how we lived in this little house. But when you living in it, you know, it's home. You don't think about stuff like that.
My aunt and uncle got accepted for HUD housing. So we moved to, we moved to ourfirst HUD home and that was when we got running water and lights. We didn't have the kerosene lamp. That's when it was more modern. It was the last part of our, you know, growing up. They got accepted for a HUD house.
AO: Was that--
MP: And we moved.
AO: - closer into town? Or was that still--
MP: Nope. It was in town; it was in town. It was in, in town and it was on alittle project, like, Howardville is like a little project and all the houses was probably built similar. But it was more room. It was three bedrooms, and much bigger, an inside bathroom. Yeah.
AO: So in terms of your aunt and uncle, can you remember any stories they usedto tell you about their own lives and the values that they carried with them and passed on to you?
AO: Not so much.
MP: I don't remember a lot of talk about anything. The, their values they passedon because any time you're raised by someone or spend the majority of your life, you pick up on their values. So their values were very high when it comes to work ethics and education. They couldn't help with homework and, but they made sure we went to school. We never missed a day of school. And when I say they couldn't help, I didn't know at that time you know there was no reading. They could barely read. So I guess my sister and I, we just blessed to get through, because we never had any problems. My uncle was very strict. My aunt was very strict. We finally, when we were in high school, maybe as juniors and seniors, we were able to go to a basketball game. But we weren't allowed to go to basketball games and when the game was over and the bus would come in, my uncle would be standing there, you know, and we had to go straight home. You know, we walked with the kids, but it wasn't no playing around. It was no idle play. It was do what you gotta do, come home. So yeah, very strict.
AO: And you talked about when you first moved to Missouri there being thisfamily, this, this feeling of family, and can you maybe--amongst the neighborhood kids. Can you talk a little more about that?
MP: Yeah, I think I had wrote about that too in here a little bit, but if Idon't see it. Yeah. I think because back then kids were so, people were so connected. People were so connected as, as, as humans. There was, there, there was less money. Less nice cars, fancy whatever. But everybody pretty, was more respectful of each other. So I'm not for sure if people even cared if my sister and I were from wherever. We all went to school together. We all got along; we all, we went through school together. We graduated together, and it was just more of a bond because even the town that I lived in there was all these little towns surrounding it, so I can't explain it, but it's just a lot of little towns. And, even if they didn't stay right there, where I lived, they was in the next town over is what I'm trying to say. So the school, the high school, there was only one high school, so we all went to the same high school. There was only one middle school. So, it was like you just go to one or the other. And I think--I don't know--the older people at that time would help out. It was back in them days that you would hear people say that everybody was your parent. Everybody knew you, so if you did something or you thought you was going to do something, somebody'd see you and they, they going to report it to your, yeah. It was back in them days.
AO: Do you have any specific memories of having your behavior reported to youraunt and uncle from another family?
MP: Not mine, I can't. No, not at this point. Uh-uh.
MP: I remember my sister one time had got in trouble, because she was walkingwith some boy. I don't, and, and you would've thought it was the end of the world. But, I can't remember. I'm pretty sure I got in trouble a lot.
AO: So when talking about the, the school you went to, the first school you wentto there in Missouri--
AO: --do you remember any of your fellow students or teachers or just theatmosphere of your elementary school?
MP: No, but that school that we went to that was the one room, we went to thatschool for one year. I don't think it was two. It may have been two. But then after that they changed the school and we went to a different building. And then, we moved to another. We moved into the HUD home and then we went to a different school. But at that school, the one that was the one room where it was like 2nd or 3rd grade, there wasn't, there was only one teacher. And the only thing I remember is the, the dirt, the dust. She could walk around with a paddle. You know, back in them days, they could actually paddle you. And she'd walk around with a paddle, and you pretty much were ordered to pay attention. The, that school, it wasn't a lot of kids in it. I think it was because it was right there in that one neighborhood. When we moved to other areas, the classrooms became larger, but at that one room school there wasn't like a lot, a lot of kids. That's why I think it was like two classrooms, too.
AO: And can you tell me the name of the high school that you went to? Once you,once you moved neighborhoods?
MP: Mm-hmm, the high school I went to was Lebrun High. That's where I graduated- Lebrun High School.
AO: Lebrun High School?
AO: And at your last interview you mentioned that school being integrated andrather than being all black. You mentioned the difficulty of learning to become a part of something that you were always taught you weren't a part of? Can you talk a little bit more about that feeling?
MP: You've gotta explain that a little bit more, because I don't [laughs] remember.
AO: No, no, no, you mentioned--
MP: I'm sorry.
AO: No, no. You mentioned the first time you were in a class with both white andblack students and you felt like you were suddenly sort of being forced to be a part of something that you had always been told you were excluded from. And, and that feeling of, of not really necessarily knowing how to act in that situation. Is that ringing--?
MP: I don't think no one, I can't. I don't think no one really can explain thatfeeling, because when segregation was set up there were whites that didn't want it, and there were blacks who didn't want it. It went both ways. So when you have been told that you are going to be separated for, you know, whatever, you get used to that. And it becomes, it's okay, you know. Like I said, you play. You've got your friends. The sports teams were doing wonderful. And then all of a sudden it changes. I think people really have to be strong. And I think being a Christian, having faith, where we all were raised to believe that color doesn't matter helps you to kind of go in a situation and survive. Or not have problems like some people. Some people it really bothered, because, you know, we riding. And I don't think we rode buses together. Come to think about it, because the town I lived in was all black. So, I don't really think we rode the buses together. It was like for a game, for sports events or for, what'd you call that when they go on outside activities?
AO: Oh, field trips?
MP: Field trips. Stuff like that. I don't really think we really rode together,but what happened, there was some, there was some issues. But I don't see them as some of the other places were seeing them. You know, the fights and the, the issues. I don't. I know they were there, because we were in the country and--
AO: And you don't personally remember feeling resistance towards, like, the ideaof going to an integrated school?
MP: Can we just, I'm pretty sure, yeah, I felt that. I did. I felt that. And Ithink, but it, but, well, how can I say this? It's not like now where everybody wants to be separate. We all wore Afros and we all bore the, bore the cross or the burden for someone else and we were more of a group. It was more like group if you, you know what I'm saying? If someone had a problem, there was someone there that they could talk to or someone there can support them. The teachers maybe because, I keep saying, maybe because the town was so small, maybe the teachers may have been a little bit more open than in the city. That's the reason I said my, the experiences were just different. And I-I can't remember, and I blocked out so much, so I better say that. I just can't remember though a lot, because I went through school and I didn't miss a beat as far as my grades, as far as graduating on time. But I know there were some experiences. When you have, when your skin color is darker than, than some of your classmates. I told you we all wore Afros, but you know my hair was thick, very thick, long. So, sometimes people would, would point out the texture of your hair. But it's no different than now. To me, it's no different than now, because I have, I remember when I started wearing braids and I moved up north and women would touch my hair. And when I, you know, you could have a certain hairstyle. And people look at your hair and, "Is that your hair? Is that your hair?" and they want to touch your hair. So, I don't know what the difference is, but I know some people do, you know, they think that things have changed. I don't know if they've changed a lot. You know they say sometimes things change but they stay the same? So, they changed in a way, but maybe they haven't changed as much as people think they have.
AO: So, it seems like you made some pretty good friends during that time. Yousaid everybody like stuck together as a group. Is there anybody that you're still in touch with today?
MP: Yeah, there's a couple of people. But when I moved from Missouri, the yearswas so far before I ever went back. It was like years before I went back to that town. So people had moved away of course. A lot of people moved away. No one wanted to stay in that country. But my, my caregiver, my aunt passed away. So, there, my sister was there, but for some reason it-, life hits you and you start working and, and you, you don't realize that time is going by like it is going by. So I didn't make it back for like years. And when I went back, half of the people you don't, you can't find or they don't remember you. But I'm going back this year for the first time in like years for my high school, what'd they call it? Reunion. That's going to be interesting. [laughs]
AO: So you talked about always wanting to move away and to move out of the smalltown, and to make sure you get an education and also wanting to travel overseas. What other dreams do you remember from your childhood and high school days of what you wanted for your future?
MP: Well, my dreams were always big for some reason. I wanted to go to theservice and I wanted to become a nurse. After I was told no, then I wanted to go to overseas to be in, I can't think of the group now, where they go and work with the kids and babies overseas.
AO: Oh, like Peace Corps?
MP: Like Peace Corps. I wanted to do that and I wanted to go to college. It justwas never, for some reason my dreams were never involved staying in where I was raised. They, they all involved doing something different, you know, getting out. But after I had my first child, it kind of changed everything and my dreams started like fading away. And then I was trying to figure out, figuring out what to do now. And I, this paper I told you I had wrote like, years ago. It says right here, it says: [reads from paper] "I'm 12 years old and pretty near being a woman." I don't know why I thought that was being a woman. "But I'm going to be somebody one day and I'll come back to get Mama Black," which is what I called my aunt, "and all my friends from this old country town." My goal was to go away and come to Michigan and get a job and get a house and go back and get the, my aunt that raised me. But she passed before I could go back to get her. So, I've always, yeah, had a dream to do something different.
AO: So, was the first time that you went back to Missouri was that after youraunt passed?
AO: You went back a few times before then?
MP: No, no, no. I, when I went back to Missouri, I'm trying to remember whathappened. I think it was for a funeral. My, I believe that's what it was. My son's father had died and I went back to take him to his father's funeral, yeah.
AO: Getting back to parenting you talked about fear and its place in your lifeand especially as a parent. You talked about raising your children in fear. Can you reflect a little bit upon how you understand that fear and what it might be rooted it?
MP: Yeah, and I wrote that and Dr. Bruce was going to print it out. [laughs] I'mnot for sure if it's on here. [takes paper] Thank you. Yeah, I did write it in here. [reads from paper] "Basically as a young single mother moving from the city to the country," it said. I said, "That my story, it could have been full of physical, mental, and emotional abuse--but it was--and the struggles of parenting and fear. When I mention fear," I say it here again. "I raised my children in fear. And basically these fears were handed down from my parents and from their parents, their generational history." And, how, I give you an example. I had my oldest kids. I have one boy and a girl that's older. So I had a son and a daughter. Well, I don't know if you know about Jet and Ebony magazine but back then Jet was popular. So you would see how things were happening in other parts of the world. Well, there was a lot of statistics on African American males going to prison and African American males being conditioned or numbered to go to prison by their educational experiences, or how they were raised, or the community they lived in. So, yeah, that setting is a fear because I was always trying to protect my son or not want him to get hurt or be harmed because, and I remember not wanting him to play football, because you know that's a dangerous sport. And I remember thinking at that time also for the males what they had for the females. It was the pregnant teens. Girls coming up pregnant and so I was very strict with my kids also. That's what I'm trying to say, you know, very structured, you know very controlling. Had to know where they were at blah, blah, blah and just to the point of exhaustion. And even when I became what you call a little bit more wiser, I had my other children, I still had like this wall that I thought I had up for protection. It was, I learned that your fears become your reality. Your worst fears become your nightmares, because everything I can recall talking to my kids about, some kind of a way, it got in and I experienced. Now, my sons didn't go to prison but I'm talking about other traumas, you know, stuff came in, through my choices. You know, as I chose people. So, I was saying that or I wrote that [reads from paper), "Although we as African Americans were allowed to work great jobs back in the Civil Rights area and with a lack of education because laws were created to protect people of color from blatant discrimination practices, but only years of reprogramming the mind and educating one's mind to erase the negative information learned by your own parents and their way of thinking have caused many blacks to change their generational linkages from feelings of poverty, lack, police brutality, and today where there is the American dream of perfect health, wealth, and abundance." So basically what I'm saying is, if I could do it over, I would realize that we all know that parents, we all raise our children by as best as what we can from the knowledge that we have. But I would really educate myself a little better because they could have been further than what they were. You know, because they had to deal with my fears. I could have been further than what I was because I had to get out of that bondage that I had been raised with when I was in Missouri.
AO: I'm very curious about when you talk about the reprogramming of one's mindin order to help erase those fears and ways in which you've discovered ways to do that since then, if any?
MP: Well, basically, it's old school. The Bible, the Word, reading the Word.What happens is we were raised as kids. We were in church like all day. All day, all night, every day. We were back in the generation where you went to church every day and you sit there and you sit up and you listen. There was no going to sleep. There were no games. There were no cell phones and all that stuff they got now. But pastors then, and even when I moved to Michigan, was focused more on sin, sinning, and going to hell. So if you were a girl who was fearful, no self-esteem, black, whatever, those are the things that's going to really wear you down, because you gonna carry that like a big weight on your shoulders. So what I was saying about re-changing, rethinking your mind. When I started reading, really reading and understanding the Bible and how it was written and some of the things that was written in them, I had never heard when I was young. So that's what I mean. It helped me to start thinking about, it teaches you everything you need to know. You know how to carry yourself, how you raise your children. I was bad at budgeting. Never was taught budgeting, money management. It's okay to have wealth. It's okay to have abundance, so yeah, that's what I mean.
AO: And you also talk about education as a potential reliever of this fear. Howdo you make that connection?
MP: Well, education is the key to, to the world's system of wealth. The Word,the Word of God, universe, higher power, whatever people want to call it, is the key to success and living a long healthy prosperous life of wealth, abundance, and health. It's like the systems work together because you can't live without money. But if you don't know the basis behind what to do with the money or how to spend it or how to act or, you can die an early death, just because you're being foolish not knowing what you're doing, you know, behind it. So, and you can see that today, because everything is fast and big money, reality TV. Everybody is making it, but everybody is not succeeding.
AO: Do you remember influences from the Civil Rights movement like the BlackPanthers or other poets you might have read being a reliever of this fear as well or being influenced by what they had to say?
MP: I think the Black Panthers' movement, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, those ofpeople that yeah, they could have really made a big 360 in our generation and probably faster. But if you think about it, there were reasons that they didn't last as long. It was like something was watching them and anytime you seek to do good, it was just stopped. Because the Panthers were doing so much good in the community and they wasn't just about, you know, everybody was talking about black power, but there was a time when the drugs were taking over the communities. And they came out and they were serving the kids breakfasts. And everything that the state or the government took over and said, "We'll do for you, and we'll do for your families and we'll do for your kids," they were doing it. And then, we were doing it ourselves for our families. When things changed and the government took over, the state took over the power of so much that's when the fear, that's another fear. People thought they couldn't do things for themselves. You know, it had to come from another source. But, what I'm saying is when you learn that God is your source you just, you just get it.
AO: When do you first remember reading about or hearing about the Black Power movement?
MP: Oh, I don't remember that. I just remember I was in Missouri then. And Ijust remember seeing them on TV and reading about them and I was like--and I think I was, was thinking then - come to think about it, I was thinking about finishing high school and moving to Chicago. Come to think about it, because that's where all the action was, you know when it come to, for me. I didn't think about Detroit. I thought about Chicago. That's where Jesse Jackson was. That's where you heard of all the good stuff, so I think I was trying to get to Chicago.
AO: The idea of joining that movement was really appealing to you?
MP: Yeah, yeah. Or being a part of something that it seemed like to me had somuch power.
AO: Did you see any shoot-offs of that movement happening in Missouri?
MP: Nah, mm-mm, no. I think they were too, I think it was too, too small. And itwasn't organized. It was kind of like, no.
AO: So when you were dreaming about Chicago and learning about this movement,did you ever, do you remember talking to your schoolmates or your friends, sister or aunt and uncle about that or it was really a personal thing?
MP: I probably talked about it. I just don't remember because--I probably talkedabout--because you remember I said I wrote a lot. I wrote a lot of poetry. I wrote songs. I would write. I mean, I would write a lot and it was all like probably so deep for people back then they probably was like this girl has an issue. But I didn't understand the power of words and I didn't understand the power of poetry. It's just something that came out and I was just writing it because it was just something that, that I had a passion for.
AO: Was poetry something you found on your own or was it, like, was there a teacher?
MP: Mm-mm. I found on my own. When people ask you, you know what teachers youremember, who helped you to--I don't have one. So, no, it was no teacher. Because I think, like I said, they meant well and they, they--I don't remember any of them having any major discipline problems as far as mistreating kids. But they didn't talk to black students about the future. When we was in high school, they didn't talk about what you could do, what you could become, going to college. It was pretty much, they talked about vocational school. They talked about stuff that was very limited from my thinking. So I'm pretty sure had they, I would have picked up on stuff a little bit faster, yeah.
AO: And you mentioned a vocational school having being been built right aroundthe time of when you went to high school.
AO: Was that a predominantly, like, was it pretty equal in terms of who went tovocational school and who continued to high school?
MP: It was a part of high school so we all went to it. But what they had, it waskind of limited. Because for the girls it was nursing and cosmetology. I don't remember too many of the other ones, but, and the boys, it was like woodshop and, anyway, it was kind of limited what you could go into. And I think I was doing nursing for a minute because I was thinking that would be a good field to go into. Nursing or nurse's aide or something like that, yeah.
AO: So, to switch gears a little bit. You talked about sisterhood and how thepeople in Missouri were sticking together more and also how you believe that you could also see your story as being a woman important to other young women. Can you talk a little bit more about your idea of sisterhood and what that means to you?
MP: Well, I can as, as far as an African-American black sister, because we havelost a lot of our sister identity because of whatever. A lot of times the media plays a big role, but we don't trust in other women as much. We don't trust ourselves. We don't trust our mates. Like I remember when I moved to Michigan, and my children were young, I just thought that it would be simple for like, your neighbor, if you got a neighbor with small kids, that you work together and help each other out, but it didn't work like that. I found out that people, where I was more trusting and still, and still trusting. Still open. Still want to help people. People were more like more standoffish. You know, stay away, no, no.
AO: Can you think of a specific story that shows that point?
MP: Of, of--?
AO: Of feeling mistrust among your, among other women in the community that youwere living with.
MP: Well, that's a long one. That's a whole different conversation. Becausethere was a lot of it. There is a lot of conversation about mistrust in the community and where it came from and how to stop it. Or why is it visible? I can't really say. I know that because of it our children are suffering because they don't trust. And they think that that's the norm to grow like that. And then when you do trust or maybe when they have taken a minute to trust, they got burnt. But I guess I'm saying, my thinking is you gonna risk. You gonna get hurt sometime. Whether you, like I used to be, trying to be so careful and or if you just take a chance. Sometimes we don't know. Now that I'm older, remember I told you, you have to learn to trust God. And then you trust that the people that come in your life are there for a reason. And if you feel any discomfort, we wasn't taught that when we was young. If you feel any discomfort, most of us, as women, have that gut feeling - that gut intuition. We just didn't know it when didn't know how to use it. Now these women, the younger generation, should know how to use it, because it's a different generation and they have more permission, and they're given more permission, to speak out and to do more. So I guess I'm saying the, like I give an example I should say, say if I were to go to the Mission and work with a group of women, I would first have to first work on trust issues before I could get through any other barriers. Because once I break through that cycle or that wall, then I may be able to empower them to teach them some parenting skills or teach them some skills for advocating for themselves. If they have mental health issues, if they have any kind of issues.
AO: Do you feel that that's a particular barrier for black women in particular or-?
MP: I think it's more research that shows it's a big issue for, yeah, it is forwhatever reason.
AO: And you also mentioned the media playing like a part in this sort of removalof sisterhood. Can you talk a little bit about how you see that happening?
MP: Well, I'm trying to think of an experience, but media is so powerful and itportrays its side of black women, women of color. And if that's what people see, that is what people believe. They don't take away that they may be actors or this is just some conversation that somebody heard and they wrote a script off of it. They look at it as it's the Bible. It's, it's the testimony. So what happened over the years or over the generations, I think people hear these stories, and, if you were a woman of color and say you were angry, you have a right to be angry. You have a right to have emotions. You have a right to have your expression. It's no different than any other woman. Pain is pain. And so, but what you, what comes out of it is the African American is the angry, bitter woman that, here she goes again, "splaring" out that, that whatever that poison or that venom. But they forget that so many times they have been so not heard and their voices have been muzzled and their experiences have been like they were invisible. So you, when you've done that over and over, it takes a lot of power and, like I was telling you, God, Spirit. Like myself, I tried to keep myself positive, but a lot of people don't have that mindset. So it will come out as anger and come out as bitterness. So we've lost that for each other too. What I'm saying is like if I see a sister that's hurting or crying, I try to say something, but if she's not willing to accept that then I have to move on. I just think that the media has helped, because you see the males talking about women, women of color. You see that a lot and it's very negative. It's very negative. You would think they didn't even have a black mother sometimes by the way they were talking. But that could go back to again women of color who raised their children out of fear. It could've been a lot of things that their mother did that she didn't realize that that was fear. She just thought it was protecting their children and it came out another way.
AO: Would you say that the representation of black women in the media haschanged in your lifetime have you seen that change at all?
MP: Changed as far as?
AO: As far as how black women are presented in the media.
MP: As far as how they are presented in the media. Yes. If you're talking aboutthem working in media that's changed because you see more of them, but if you notice they're more of mixed color. So, yeah, it's changed a lot over the generation. I'm not for sure. I can't give you too much information on how much it's changed. But I mean as far as how women are perceived and then sometimes they try to live up, look like to that image, because if you look at the reality shows, they really look like they are trying to live up to what people have already spoken. And it goes back to, you know, when I was talking to you about watching what comes out of your mouth, watch what you speak, watch what you say, because unless you're destined to become what you don't want to, you know, what you don't want to become.
AO: Yeah, well we have covered so much today and we're out of time but I justwant to make sure I'm not cutting you off in the middle of anything so if there are any like last sentiments?
MP: I just would like to again clarify--and I had stated that earlier--but Ijust wanted to clarify that everybody's experiences are different. It's good to talk about the, the civil rights era, the black experience, but hopefully my story will have a different handle, because you can also talk about the trauma during that time and how people, you see a lot of successes, you know, people come out of that era, but there's a lot of people who were separated from families. There was a lot of people who, you know, there was a lot of lynchings. There was lot of people that moved away trying to get away from not having their child become a victim, hanging on a tree or whatever. And then they moved to the North and then they had crosses burned on their lawns. So it's still trauma and it affected everyone. And I think that, I think that sometimes when you want to, you pull it into now because people are saying that, "Well, what's the difference between then and now? Because we're supposed to be in a new history. This is a new season. And I think that it's up to the person who, who's living the experience, because I think people have always been like that. Things have always happened. I think that the media has just got to be a little bit more up on it now. There's more videotaping. There's more things going on. I think you can't change the police department overnight. I think police departments have been like that all along is what I'm trying to say, but things maybe were not as blatant as they are now.
So basically, I wanted to read one thing and then I'm done. This is a poem Iwrote and it's kind of lengthy. But, basically, I was telling you that my life since it's been through like generations--which is funny because people say, "You didn't," when I tell people I had outside toilets and I worked in the fields. They was like, "You not old enough for all of that. No, you not." But I went through so many generations and so much stuff, but this is called My Voice Sings. And it says [reads from paper]:
"I can't sing, but I can echo my voice and stand behind the many injustices inthe world.
I know the youth today are angry and bitter and appear to have no faith in their future
but I can take the time out of my busy day to talk to a young boy or girl.
I can speak to a lonely stranger walking past me in the street.
I can say hello to a person regardless of their race when we meet.
I can shed a tear for a senseless death of a stranger with the respect ofknowing that they were someone's child, mother, father, or other fictive kin.
In reality, pain is so real that it affects the heart in the same way becausethe heart does not see race or gender and in the end, no one wins.
I can't sing, but I know now that pain has no color, class or creed.
I can't sing but I can become a voice for all children who were neglected at ayoung age and left alone for so many senseless needs.
I can continue to lift up my own children and grandchildren daily in prayer.
I can stop giving advice when not asked
and I can stop the pre-judgmental attitudes about a situation discussed if I wasnot present or there.
It would be an honor for me to sing a song so mighty that the whole audiencewould be in awe and smiles,
but instead I would use my voice to be an ambassador to all youth regardless ofrace and gender and stand in the gap for the needs and rights of a child."
And the reason I wrote that is because in an African American community,singing, churches is very powerful. But what about the people that can't sing? What about people who sit in the back and would love to speak out but they can't for whatever reason? Or they're afraid to because they think they're going to be belittled? What about the children who parents don't care if they have food in the morning when they leave for school or they don't take the time to be there for the child, for the children? Then, the children go to school and act up and the teachers are calling. It's more calls coming to protective services for neglect, but, sometimes, it's not even neglect. Sometimes, it's just the misinterpretation of what a parent sees as her, her parenting style or her skills and I think that a voice is powerful if it's, if it's used the right way. And I was talking to you about that. If I were to go talk to a group of women at the Mission, there's a difference in speaking your needs and speaking for yourself and your children's needs and just blurting out anger. There's a big difference in that and I think that for me I pray that this message comes across correctly when you print it or whatever comes out of it, because I want it to be like a voice for someone to read and to see that it doesn't matter where you started from. It matters where you end up and that's it.
AO: Well, I think that that will definitely come across in your story. Thank youso much Ms. Peterson.
MP: Thank you. I appreciate it.